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Should I have the vaccine after a bout of shingles?

Emails and phone conversations start with variations on “Should I have the vaccine after a bout of shingles?”

We have checked with an expert involved with the introduction of the shingles vaccine into the UK back in 2011. He told us that as he had recently had shingles, he was not going to bother with the vaccine for about 4 years. Here’s the medical explanation for his decision.

We catch chickenpox as children. (Medical name herpes varicella) The body will clear in up in a couple of weeks, usually. But some of the virus rides the tide of nutrient fluids up the nerve to the neural ganglion beside the spine, where it stays. Occasionally, it can reactivate. On average a recurrence (called herpes zoster) occurs once in 20 years but that’s averaging out the unlucky few who have repeated episodes with the people who don’t have any.

The virus is kept quiet by our body’s defences. When they are busy elsewhere, dealing with ill-health, stress, trauma, injury, then the virus rides back down the nerve and causes a recurrence. This will be in just one area of the body on one side of the body. Often the face or the ribs: in one stripe in the picture. Chart of dermatomes in the body

Our expert pointed out “Each time you have a bout of shingles, your body will make more antibodies to fight it. So having shingles does the same job as having the vaccine.” So this is why he will wait 4 years before getting the vaccine.

It would not be dangerous to have vaccine after a bout of shingles. It would just not be as useful.

Page published 18 January 2024

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Take part in a shingles vaccine trial

If you are over 50 and have had shingles, you might qualify for the trial to prove the effectiveness of the ‘other’ shingles vaccine. This is a two-jab immunisation and the manufacturer GSK is running a placebo-controlled trial. This means that you might get the real thing, or a sterile water (safe placebo) injection instead. You won’t know, and neither will the person who carries out the vaccination.
The trials are being run in Addlestone, Atherstone, Belfast, Bradford-on-Avon, Manchester, Nantwich, Poole and Trowbridge. More details on

I say ‘other’ above, as currently there is a single-jab vaccine called Zostavax available free at your GP, for people in their 70s. (However, until Sept, if you are 77 you don’t yet qualify…)

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Volunteer to help Huddersfield doctor re PHN

Would you like to help research to find a better way of diagnosing and treating PHN? Dr Patrick McHugh and the Pain Research Team at the University of Huddersfield need volunteers to come in for about 90 minutes to fill in some questionnaires, have ‘sensory testing’ and have a blood sample taken (about 50mls). The study is ethically approved and adopted to the NIHR clinical research network. Your travel costs will be reimbursed with Sainsbury’s vouchers.

What you do:

Get in touch with the Pain Research Team at 07598711468 or by emailing the team at [email protected]